Young researcher battles invasive parasites

April 21, 2017

Narelle Dybing examined the parasites introduced by invasive species on Christmas and Dirk Hartog islands

A Murdoch University early career researcher has revealed invasive parasites on Australia’s west coast are creating serious concerns for conservation programs and for public health in the region.

Narelle Dybing’s regular deliveries of dead feral cats and rats from farmers have formed an essential part of her study into the devastating effect of parasites carried by feral animals on native species.

Narelle has just completed her PhD at Murdoch University's School of Veterinary and Life sciences, comparing the parasites found in feral animals on mainland Western Australia with those on Christmas and Dirk Hartog islands.

“My results have shown that feral animals introduce a large number of parasite species wherever they go,” Narelle said.

“This has implications for conservation programs and also for public health.

“Invasive species have put the wildlife of Christmas Island and Dirk Hartog Island in peril.

“One of the issues caused by feral animals is the increased competition for resources and predation on native wildlife, but a far bigger problem is caused by the parasites and parasitic worms carried by these invasive pests.

“Many years ago native rodent species lived side-by-side in harmony on Christmas Island. But, shortly after the black rat arrived on the island by ship, the native rodent species were extirpated. This is thought to be primarily due to the parasites the black rats brought with them to the island.”

Narelle travelled to Christmas Island to examine what parasites their two main invasive species, the black rat and the feral cat, had introduced.

“Both rats and cats introduced a high number of species to this island, and some of the parasites I’ve found can spread to humans, including rat lung worm, dwarf rat tapeworm, cat hookworm and the common cat roundworm,” she said.

“I also found within each cat and rat they had a high number of parasite species, and also a high number of individual worms of that species.”

Narelle presented her research at the Western Australian finals of FameLab 2017.

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